Wednesday, September 10, 2008

21st-Century Education and Parental Expectations

Ahhh -- school. The great baby-sitter. The place we can send our children when we want time for ourselves. The place where other people will rear our kids for us. That great institution that ensures bright futures and secures successful careers. The key to our victory over smart, young Chinese prodigies.

And what would education be without also including after-school programs? No child can be really well-rounded without the best extracurricular facilities. Dancing? Soccer? Band? Football? Basketball? Gymnastics? Swimming? No, you can't pick just one or two! You have to do them all! Free time? Absolutely not! How will children learn time management, if they just sit around all day doing nothing?!?

Interestingly enough, they do. They learn much, much more than adults could probably ever imagine. They learn about what they are interested in, develop their imaginations, learn social behavior, and develop personal time management. Studies have increasingly shown the value of unstructured play and yes, even the value of not spending every waking moment in school. It seems, though, that parents are increasingly raising their expectations of what, exactly, education can and should do for children.

I recently discussed this topic with my sister Lexia, and we both agreed that parents nowadays expect schools -- and I'll extend this to the government -- to rear their children. American parents (and perhaps this phenomenon has no country limits; I don't know) expect schools and after-school programs to provide their children with all the correct principles of living: good manners and socially acceptable behavior, conscientious eating habits and a firm understanding of physical activity, the value of hard work, time management, how to read, how to write, and even how to think. What's more, parents believe that it's the government's responsibility to increase the schools' capacities to teach all of these things.

Now, here's the interesting thing to me: it seems that this parental expectation spans the entire economic line. That is, parents who don't have the time or the means to teach their children rely on schools to teach their children for them. Yet parents who have all the money (and probably time) in the world also rely on schools to teach their children all the things they need to know. They send them to top-notch, brand-name schools in the hopes that these schools will grant them access to a successful life.

Why? I think it's because putting responsibility on schools and the government is an easy way out. Parents are looking for an easy answer. When a child or young adult has problems, it's a lot easier to say that teachers and politicians are not living up to your expectations than to admit that you yourself are not. I believe that parents want the absolute best for their children, but somewhere in time, the "best" became getting kids involved in more and more activities and having schools cram information into them until their minds get completely overwhelmed! The "best" became the most prestigious and cultural. Whatever happened to teaching our own children -- spending time with them and helping them discover how to learn and be curious and independent? Sure, if you spend more time at home, then you spend less time at work. Less work is less money, and less money means not being able to give kids everything they want and everything you think they deserve. But what are the trade-offs?

These articles list some of the most important ones:

Sure, not all parents put the blame on others for their children's problems. Sure, I'm generalizing -- because I think it's a general American problem. It's also one of the most serious problems and one that deserves more attention than it gets. I hope, hope, hope I don't forget what I believe now when I'm a parent!

Thing I'm thankful for: my wonderful parents. They weren't perfect (and they probably spoiled me somewhat), but they did teach me to love learning and to govern myself based on the principles they taught. Thanks, mom and dad!


Blogger Heather S. said...

interesting reading for a brand new mommy!

2:56 PM  
Blogger Rose and Daniel said...

Hey Sara Snow! I found your blog! This is a very insightful post and I totally agree with your thoughts. You sure are a smart girl. You're going to be a great mom!

5:21 PM  
Blogger michele said...

Hi Sara, I totally agree with you about this subject! I think it took me several years to recover from my public school education. I feel that I was only taught how to use regurgitated thinking skills, and there wasn't enough room for me to cultivate my original ideas and thoughts. Am I being pessimistic? Anyway, have you heard of Unschooling? I don't know if I'm sold on the idea yet but it seems pretty interesting:

9:04 AM  
Blogger CarrieAnne said...

I disagree. School teaches the regular things like the three R's. School also "teaches" her how to interact in a group..not with any specific "lesson", but with the regular interactions you'd come across in a classroom. *I* teach her morals, not her school, and I think you'd find most parents offended at the idea that school teaches morals. They sometimes try to teach other things, but really if they aren't learned and reinforced at home there's no point.

I don't know anyone who expects their kids to learn values, a work ethic, manners, eating habits or how to think from school. You give your kid chores to teach them how to work, you teach them morals through your religion and or personal views. If manners aren't taught until a kid is in kindergarten...well good luck with that! Kids will eat what their parents eat, so if you want your kid to eat healthy then you have to do it too. If you want your kid to be active, YOU have to be active. After school sports, choir, or music ROCK! They are great fun if your kid wants to do them.

If your kid sees you lying and cheating then they will too, no matter what the school says is "right".

I have worked extensively in PTA and in groups that try and keep arts and music in schools, I am very involved in my child's schooling. I'm very happy with the education she's been getting in public schools.

I've known many well adjusted home schooled kids and many who ended up with horrible social skills and an inability to look at something from a different perspective.

I don't think it's the school that you can blame these things on, it's the parents. If you're a crappy parent your kid is gonna be a crappy kid. If you put in the work that has to be done to be a good parent I think your kid will be a better kid. They may make poor choices but they will have a foundation to fall back on when they do.

all that ranting aside, :-) I do agree that you shouldn't take away your kid's free time. On a typical day my child does homework before she plays. Then she'll play for a few hours, digging in the dirt, riding her bike, singing, talking in accents and dressing up, tag, sled, make up games with rules I never understand and that are usually made as you go, all the typical kid things. Then she comes in and does a few chores and we eat dinner and go to sleep. she usually gets three or more hours playing in a day. I think you can have a great education in a public school, play an instrument, take horse riding lessons, and still have time to make a surprise birthday party for your friend's doll.

I personally had a not so great experience in school and my husband's was equally crappy so this isn't coming from someone who can't see the problems in public schools. But I don't think the problems you mentioned are the ones that come from the school..I think they come from the parents.

I know this is a WAAAY long reply, and I don't want to sound angry or like I'm fighting, because I'm not, I just wanted to reply to what you wrote in a more "complete" way. :-) Thanks.

1:34 PM  

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